Mendelssohn: Oedipus in Kolonos

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Oedipus in Kolonos
PERFORMER: Angela Winkler, Joachim Kuntzsch, Michael Ransburg, Julia Nachtmann (speakers), Manfred Bittner (bass); Stuttgart Chamber Choir; Klassiche Philharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius


 Standing at the centre of Sophocles’s Theban trilogy, Oedipus in Kolonos forms a melancholy, meditative interlude between the more dramatic events of Oedipus Rex and Antigone. After the disappointment of Bernius’s recording of the latter (reviewed in January), this one is a pleasant surprise.

Did Mendelssohn respond to the murmurings of discontent over Antigone? Whatever the case, his choruses of four years later for Oedipus display a greater range of texture, as well as more sophisticated interplay between chorus, reciters and orchestra.

Nowhere do we find such a blatant mismatch as the one I noted between the music and Sophocles’s tribute to the astonishing nature of mankind. The poetic high point of Oedipus, the richly detailed eulogy of Kolonos, calls forth one of Mendelssohn’s most suave and affecting choruses, in which the orchestra is finally awoken by the singing to join in the celebrations.


Perhaps the least appealing part is the martial music provoked by the prospect of war between Kolonos and Thebes – not Mendelssohn’s natural territory. But the chorus lamenting the horrors of old age is spare and terrifying, while the final bars achieve an almost Wagnerian grandeur. All in all, the performance is superb, with a special wreath for the brows of the tenor section. Roger Nichols